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Fire kills 29 at South Korean fitness centre
December 22, 2017
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SEOUL: A fire broke out in an eight-storey fitness centre in the scenic South Korean city of Jecheon on Thursday, killing 29 people, most of them as they were taking a sauna, officials said.

The fire started in a car parked on the first floor and spread, one official said. The fire station said 12 women and three men were known to have been killed. Thirteen bodies were unrecognisable.

The fire station official said most of the victims were found in the sauna.

Jecheon is southeast of the capital Seoul and is popular with visitors to its mountains and lakes.

The fire broke out around 4:00pm local time and quickly engulfed the entire eight-storey building, leaving many trapped inside.

Sixteen victims were found at a public sauna and two elsewhere in the building, the National Fire Agency said.

Television footage showed the building consumed by flames and issuing dark plumes of smoke, as several people stood waiting to be rescued from an outdoor terrace.

The fire − believed to have started in a parking lot on the first floor − has been mostly put out, but the death toll may rise further as firefighters continue to search the building, an agency spokesman said.

“The fire produced so much toxic smoke so quickly, leaving many people unable to evacuate,” the spokesman said.

Jecheon is in central South Korea, about 120 kilometres southeast of the capital Seoul.

President Moon Jae-In expressed regret over the accident and urged officials “utmost efforts” for rescue and search operations, his office said.

The worst fire accident ever to hit the modern South Korea was an arson attack on a subway station in the southeastern city of Daegu that killed 192 people in 2003.

It was unclear what caused the fire but it likely began at the building’s parking lot, according to an official from Jecheon’s fire department, who also requested anonymity.

The building had several restaurants and leisure facilities, including a gym, public bath and an indoor golf practice facility, the official said.


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